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The Report of the Commission of Investigation into Mother and Baby Homes January 25, 2021

Posted by guestposter in Uncategorized.
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A guest post from Catherine Kelly

How can the Irish Government justify ignoring the lived experience of survivors? 

The story of mother and baby homes in Ireland is replete with Church and State collusion. The Report of the Commission of Investigation into Mother and Baby Homes, appears to be carrying forth and sustaining this legacy. Legally, financially, and socially, both women and children existed to be seen, but not heard. A harsh and oppressive female code of conduct was determined by a patriarchal system. This system was developed and overseen by men in power who supported institutions to reform woman they considered to no longer be virtuous. Virtue in Ireland was a broad and sexist concept defined by clergymen and state moralists as an instrument for oppressing young women and children born out of wedlock.

The silenced voices of innocent women and children who repeatedly tried to share their lived histories of life within institutions and how they felt about the cards a harsh and unyielding society had dealt them, has gone unheeded for far too long. Heart breaking re-traumatising statements that exist within the Report of the Commission of Investigation into Mother and Baby Homes such as ‘it must be acknowledged that the institutions under investigation provided a refuge, when the families provided no refuge at all’ support evidence that those in power are the only resounding voices informing this report. This is not surprising since oppression often involves ignoring the perspectives of the marginalized, while continuing to sustain a patriarchal society conveying women as either the failure or satisfaction of another’s defined ideals of female morals and ethics. If patriarchy continues either consciously or subconsciously to be deeply woven into our institutional policies, advocacy, treatment, research and reform, then how can we expect reports to be non-biased? 

Continuing to expose and challenge the findings of reports where patriarchal influence is being perpetuated will enable us to more effectively contest and dismantle them. 

As a society we must commit to better understand the experiences of persons oppressed in gendered or discriminatory ways. The general public must become fully aware that the harrowing stories and consequences of life in institutions have not ceased. Mother and baby homes in many situations were not closed down but transformed into another cash cow for religious orders, that of institutions which continue to house people with intellectual disabilities. As a society we would be remiss if we did not question what crime have these individuals ever committed to remain incarcerated behind the grey and bleak walls of Irish institutions and who if anybody is advocating for and protecting their rights? 

Mother and Baby Homes are a clear example of how female bodies became a target of disciplinary power and punishment. These institutions facilitated a systemic culture of dehumanisation, torture and abuse. The disturbing truth is that similar to concentration camps these institutions were used to intern innocent civilians that our Irish state considered hostile. And, while interned were forced into a life of unpaid labour. Institutions allowed the state and church to segregate these women by placing them in a closed or isolated building that operated rules that were distinct from Irelands main system of rights and punishments.

The result was the stripping of people’s rights, the indiscriminate use of power and the systematic removal of liberty.Mother and Baby Homes are a symbol of everything that a modern democratic society are supposed to stand against. 

 Therefore, it is imperative that the Irish Government recognise that reports and discussions involving survivors can be emotionally traumatic and that they have a moral obligation to employ protections to avoid any re-traumatisation. A humane approach must be adopted to ensure the protection of a survivors’ emotional and physical well-being in all aspects of the process, from the planning stage right through to the sharing of the results. All reports and the processes should be underpinned by the core principles of trauma-informed care, such as safety, trustworthiness and transparency, peer support and mutual self-help, collaboration and mutuality, empowerment, voice, and choice. 

Unfortunately, consultation and authentic engagement seem to be concepts completely overlooked by the government in relation to the Report of the Commission of Investigation into Mother and Baby Homes. The opportunity to use a participatory approach to facilitate survivors to engage in a process of co-evaluation of policies and action which could influence positive societal change and social policy development was either overlooked or completely ignored.  

Apologies with inaction are meaningless. The government need to listen to the voice of the survivors and to meaningfully engage with them in developing a process where the outcomes they require can be negotiated and co-constructed. 

Thankfully Ireland have strong advocates who have risked their reputations and lives to challenge the status quo and demand justice for those that were wronged. The people of Ireland deserve far better that a government that is paternalistically authoritarian and prescriptive.

Catherine Kelly is a freelance journalist who has published work through RTE Brainstorm.

She is an associate lecturer within the Humanities Department of TU Dublin. She has lectured on the social care degree course for the last eight years and her history of work within the social care sector supports her to provide students with both an academic and practical insight into this area of study.

She has over 25 years’ experience working within the community and voluntary sector. She was appointed to the position of Director of Services with WALK in 2005. She has been at the forefront of designing, developing and delivering programmes for people with intellectual disabilities that provide pathways to access employment in the open labour market and third level education.  She has a particular interest in the development of person-centred, socially inclusive supports and in the provision of supports that are driven by an equality and human rights agenda. She is a regular speaker at national conferences where she covers topics such as equality and diversity and innovation.

Comments»

1. banjoagbeanjoe - January 25, 2021

No comments yet. Is this an indication that the CLR commentariat (including moi) is predominantly male, pale and stale? And focused (moi again) on some topics to the exclusion of others such as this one.

Don’t want to hijack the thread from the main topic of the post…so a couple of points:

It’s clear that the report has re-traumatised many people who were incarcerated in and adopted from the Mother and Baby homes. If it was done right, and properly reflected the voices and experiences of the victims, it might have brought some closure. But it wasn’t done right, so the left needs to work with the victims to fix this.

Second point. This is very challenging: “Mother and baby homes in many situations were not closed down but transformed into another cash cow for religious orders, that of institutions which continue to house people with intellectual disabilities. As a society we would be remiss if we did not question what crime have these individuals ever committed to remain incarcerated behind the grey and bleak walls of Irish institutions and who if anybody is advocating for and protecting their rights?”
Through work, I have some knowledge of services for people with disabilities. Religious orders certainly own some of these services but by no means all – not even anywhere near most. The actual day to day involvement of members of religious orders in managing and delivering these services is minimal – brothers, sisters and priests are very scarce and getting scarcer. I think saying “these individuals… remain incarcerated behind the grey and bleak walls of Irish institutions” is questionable. There’s always room for improvement and the services and people delivering services to people with disabilities have a very hard job and work all the time to try to improve those services. The “bleak walls of Irish institutions” doesn’t ring true to me with regard to any of the services I’ve had dealings with. Which is not to say that there may be some, a small few, which might still fit that description.
And yes there is always a need, and will always be a need, for independent inspection and oversight of these services to ensure that proper standards are maintained.

Liked by 1 person

WorldbyStorm - January 25, 2021

Cheers for that BAB, I think that’s a fair point. And I’d add that in my experience in another sector the number of religious have fallen away to essentially nothing – I’d argue that at this stage it’s more about questions of ownership.

But I think your other point re the response to the Report here is well made, though in fairness there was a reasonably well populated thread when it came out. There is an issue of a singular focus on certain aspects of political activity etc to the exclusion of others.

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